Whilst reading Civil and Coastal Engineering at University I identified predominantly with my course, commercial diving and the Officer Training Corps. I was an engineering student, who happened to be realising he was gay, rather than a gay engineering student. My most significant interaction with student LGBT networks being a campaign to reinstate Officer Training Corps recruiting on campus; the year the ban on LGB military service was lifted.
On graduation, an Engineer on railway upgrades, I controlled worksites from London to Crewe. It was a great experience; early exposure to engineering, people management and leadership, especially in the early hours of a Christmas period shutdown! I was in my element on site, but became increasingly aware that the business was not inclusive, whether gender, gender identity or sexual orientation, but often more so, in the recently privatised rail industry, if you hadn’t worked for British Rail. I’d tried it, it wasn’t me, and so I moved on.
I commissioned as an Army officer in the Royal Engineers. My military engineering career has been typically diverse. Initially leading multi-disciplinary construction teams in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Germany, Canada, Cyprus and Jordan, revelling in the challenges that delivering engineering around the world can pose. After a few amazing years and a spell in operations management, controlling highly specialist teams in Kenya and Afghanistan, I was given responsibility for management of a construction team, over one hundred strong, in Iraq.
Military engineers form close knit teams and I soon began to realise that members of my team suspected I was gay and were apparently unconcerned. I started coming out, ‘started’ as we move assignments regularly and effectively come out every two years. It gets easier every time, and whilst there are still individuals struggling with the clear legal, moral, business and operational cases for diversity, I’ve overwhelmingly found the response to be relaxed and, especially amongst younger personnel, curious.
Whilst reading for a second engineering degree, I was seconded to a civilian contractor overseas. Whilst there’s still work to do at home, I was surprised by how far ahead British industry could be and how even in countries where legal protections exist how culturally there can still be issues.
In many other countries LGBT engineers undoubtedly experience challenges, often exercising considerable discretion, but the opportunities can be significant and certainly enhanced my performance at Chartered Professional Review. In part due to the experience of returning to civil industry, on return to the Army, having avoided LGBT networks at university, I took up a role on our LGBT Forum committee and believe such groups to be essential drivers of greater inclusion.
I strongly believe that inclusive teams enable people to live authentically, not dedicating effort to hiding aspects of their identity, maximising their talents. I was once told by a senior engineer that “If you’re not true to yourself at work, your ability and confidence levels will diverge, affecting your performance”. In both military and wider engineering teams inclusive leadership is not simply the right thing to do; a divergence of ability and confidence can directly impact on safety.
Sexual orientation or gender identity should not be a barrier to following an engineering career. Encouragingly for the industry’s future, particularly amongst junior engineers, I believe that being open about sexuality and gender identity is seen more and more as a question of authenticity and integrity. To paraphrase Lord Brown; if in doubt, come out, you’ll be a better engineer when you’re comfortable being yourself. I know I am.